How preventing one suicide can save many lives
So we focus attention on some of the behaviors
on the very dark side of the spectrum of hopefulness and optimism,
which is suicidal behaviors.
When we dug into that literature,
we saw the importance of suicide as a cause of death for young people,
and for teenagers it’s the number two cause of death for, I think,
ages 15 to 19 in the United States.
A lot of the scholarship that’s focusedon suicide
has focused on individual risk factors
—both genetics and the presence ofphysical and emotional pain
—and what we wanted to do is think a little bit broader
about social contagion and social processes related to suicide.
In processes of social contagion and suicide have also been understudied
because social contagion and social processes for adolescent suicide
often comes up in the news when a celebrity commits suicide,
and there are public policies for the media not to
report celebrity suicides in order to not have spikes of
adolescents committing suicide as copycatting.
More recently the media has being trained
that if there is a celebrity suicide to report
the story but also report hotlines and information for
adolescents who are feeling the same way.
So there’s a lot of public policy interestin the potential for contagion and suicide.
So we focused some attention on that in ourstudy, too.
So what we did was we begin to survey data that hadinformation on suicide,
and to think about social processes,
we found data that had notjust your own suicidal attempts
but also whether or not family members hadrecently committed suicide.
And our thinking was in order to trace a socialprocess we wanted to see,
在某种意义上 “首例病人” ——
in some sense, patient zero—
which would be a family member having committed suicide—
and then trace that through an adolescent social network.
So we measured family suicides that occurredin a previous year.
We examined the impact on the adolescents in the families
that had family suicides,
but then we pivoted and asked the question:
do those family processes spill over into the classroom?
So we examined the impact of having a classmate
who had a family member commit suicide in the last year.
And, again, we found very large effects that
seemed to work through having a classmate’s
family member commit suicide,
affecting the classmate him or herself,
it then spills over into the classroom on the suicidal behaviors
of those who are not directly affected.
And the other surprising finding in that study
was that these pathways between a family member committing suicide,
an adolescent increasing their suicidality and then spilling over into
the classroom is that that process only followsgender lines,
meaning that if I’m a female student in a classroom
it only matters to me whether females in my classroom
had family members who’ve committed suicide.
Having males in my classroom who had familymembers commit suicide
does not affect my suicidality.
So it’s a very intriguing and surprisingfinding.
It says something both on the potential for
spillovers for contagion in suicide but also
that it’s a little bit more complicatedbecause once it moves into the classroom
I think these suicide contagions take advantage of preexisting networks
where girls are friends with girls and boys are friends with boys
inside classrooms, and when a bad thing happens
to a classmate’s family then that news and those effects
seem to travel on gender-specific lines.
And similar to the child abuse examination
where we found that family members or family
processes spilled into the classroom,
there’s a policy implication here that
successful suicide prevention programs
again have this potential for spilling over on people who aren’t
treated themselves or who aren’t intervened on themselves.
If you can successfully prevent a suicide, in our case,
in a family member that actually reduces the likelihood of a suicide attempt
in both the adolescent in the family but also the adolescent’s classmates.
So again this has the possibility of a larger bang for your buck
where you spend money to reduce suicide
or spend money to prevent suicidein a single family
but you gain the benefits of both the family
and the classmates of the family.